House members push to let PTO offset sequester cuts

Monday - 7/8/2013, 6:34pm EDT

By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

Legislators are seeking to protect their constituents from the impacts of sequestration.

A group of House members representing Silicon Valley and the surrounding areas are taking steps to end sequestration for the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) by using fees paid by companies to gain patents and trademarks. Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, is calling for an end to Defense Department furloughs that, starting today, are impacting his civilian constituents employed by West Point Military Academy.

Unlock investor fees

Seventeen House members sent a letter to Reps. Frank Wolf (R- Va.) and Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, June 24 requesting the committee allow PTO to use funds from user fees to offset cuts from sequestration.

The three top signatories — Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D- Calif.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) — introduced a bill, the Patents and Trademarks Encourage New Technology (PATENT) Jobs Act, on June 28 to change the way user fees are viewed under sequestration.

"USPTO funding is fundamentally different than other government spending, and does not contribute to the budget deficit," the letter stated. "USPTO is funded entirely by fees paid to the agency by those seeking patents. Congress explicitly intended for these fees to be used solely to carry out USPTO's operations — not the government at large."

The letter stated PTO has almost $150 million in user fees locked in its general fund for fiscal 2013.

"A robust patent system is universally recognized as crucial to American economic growth. The sequestration of USPTO's user fee funds will weaken American competitiveness in the global economy, exacerbate the current backlog of patent applications and delay the opening of vital new satellite offices," the letter stated. "Reducing USPTO's capacity to process patent and trademark applications may cause fee revenue to further decline, which will in turn reduce capabilities and increase the patent backlog to an even greater extent."

However, Jill Shatzen, a Wolf spokeswoman, said Wolf can't meet the representatives' requests outlined in the letter because of legal constraints.

A PTO spokesman said the agency doesn't comment on pending legislation, and a request for comment from the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents PTO employees, was not immediately returned.

Civilian sequester impacts the most vulnerable

Starting Monday, DoD civilian workers began the first of 11 furloughs days that must take place by Sept. 30.

Maloney said the furloughs are especially devastating to the West Point community.

"The furloughs at West Point will mean $4,000 less per employee between now and Sept. 30. That's a big cut in anybody's pay, but particularly over such a short period represents an 18 percent reduction in that pay," Maloney said during a press briefing Monday. "And this will be a direct impact on not only the families themselves, but also on the communities that depend on the wages of these small businesses and local economies. And as I said many times, there's a better way to go."

Roughly 650,000 civilians hold DoD jobs. Maloney said roughly 1,000 West Point employees are impacted by furloughs.

"We should remember as well that this is the leading edge of a process that will go on for decades unless we make better decisions," Maloney said. "Some of the worst effects of sequester have been avoided in these first few months, but that will not be the case starting in October, and the year after that and the year after that."

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio

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